Ask Koen de Kort – Episode Two

by Matt de Neef


In this instalment of Ask Koen de Kort, we catch the Argos-Shimano rider at home, nursing a broken collarbone but itching to get back on the bike. Koen’s been good enough to answer some more questions about life as professional cyclist and about his injury and what it means for his 2013 season.

At the moment I’m sitting at home with the mother of all cycling injuries: a broken collarbone. Even though it’s certainly not the first crash in my career and not even the first bone I’ve broken in a crash (I’ve broken ribs a couple of times), it’s the first time I’ve “done my collarbone”.

It was the 4th stage in the Tour of Qatar and, as per usual, I was doing the lead-out for John Degenkolb, this time as second-last man with Tom Veelers and John still on my wheel. I navigated a roundabout going into the last kilometre and tried to go through the bunch from left to right to find some space to make the final move. Luckily Tom and John found a quicker route as they were just on my right when a few riders in front of me hit the deck while we were moving at about 60km/h.

It all happened very fast and I had no time to break my fall. I landed right on my shoulder and as I sat up I prayed my collarbone was bruised and not broken. I could feel it hurt instantly. I moved my shoulder to check and could feel parts of the bone scraping on each other so I just laid down flat, disappointed, until two of my teammates stopped to check if I was alright. I told them I wasn’t alright and my collarbone was broken and they stayed with me to help me get up and into the ambulance – talk about team spirit!

X-rays and CT scans showed that the collarbone was indeed broken, as if I needed any more certainty. The next day I flew back from Qatar to The Netherlands, a very uncomfortable 7-hour flight, to head straight from the airport to the operating theatre in a Dutch hospital. They fixed the two parts of the bone with a plate and 8 screws and the next day it already felt much better. I could just use my arm again carefully without the bones scraping so I decided to ride on the home trainer straight away.

Nearly two weeks since the crash, I’m still riding on the home trainer twice per day for at least an hour. Hopefully I’ll get the green light from the doctors very soon to start riding outside as I’ve certainly had enough of riding indoors.

Due to the injury I won’t be able to do the first two classics of the season, Omloop het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, but I’m sure I’ll still be able to do all the other classics. Ideally I’d like to do Tirreno-Adriatico as my final preparation race before the classics but this will only be possible if the recovery goes very well (the race starts on March 6). In that case I will realistically only miss two of the planned races but it’s obviously not the ideal preparation for the classics. That said, I’m still hopeful I’ll hit peak form during the classics season to be able to go for a result myself or to help John Degenkolb in the final sprint!


Koen’s collarbone X-ray.

“ASK KOEN” READER QUESTIONS

When you go down in a crash and break your collarbone, who provides the medical insurance? The race organiser? The team? Is it your own? How well looked after are you in some of these hospitals? What are the best and worst countries to be in hospital? – Anonymous

I have been lucky enough to not have to rely on medical insurance too often during my cycling career but it usually goes through my own health insurance, even though I’m sure the race organiser and the team have great insurance as well. When it’s not necessary to go to hospital following a crash the team carries the costs of bandages, antibiotics and pain medication, for instance, which the team doctor will always have with him.

I have been in hospitals in France, Belgium, The Netherlands and just recently Qatar. The best hospital was Qatar – they have a hospital just for sports and have the best doctors from all over the world working there. I even had a few doctors and nurses waiting for me when I arrived at the hospital!

Luckily I haven’t been in any bad hospitals and hope it stays that way. But pretty much all of our races are in very well developed countries so I don’t expect to ever end up in a bad hospital.

What type of recovery plan are you on for a broken collarbone? – Anonymous

Because I had an operation in which they inserted a plate and screwed the parts of the collarbone to it, the recovery time is a lot shorter than it would be if I’d let it heal naturally. Not having an operation would have meant having the arm in a sling for 6 weeks but now I can basically use it again straight away. I’ll have to be very careful because if the bone isn’t healed and the screws break out of it there is no way of fixing it normally and I’ll be out of action for a very long time.

Currently I’m on the trainer riding as upright as possible because leaning on my arm (and therefore the collarbone) is still very painful. As soon as it’s possible to lean on it more and use the arm properly I can start riding outside but, again, very carefully.

It takes 6 weeks for a full recovery from a broken collarbone but it just depends on how much of a risk the doctors and I want to take. Ideally I would be back racing after 6 weeks but most riders take the risk and get back to racing after 4 weeks.

What will be the main difference with the step up from a Pro Continental team license to a WorldTour license? Is the race schedule much different? Is there more security? Are there more perks? Is the pay any better or contracts longer? – Anonymous

The main difference for the team is the race schedule – there are many more big races we will receive an automatic invite to. An obvious difference is that we’ll do all 3 grand tours which will require a lot more in organisation and from the riders. For me personally there won’t be a huge difference in race schedule as I did pretty much only big races last season anyway but for the younger riders on the team they’ll get thrown in at the deep end a little more.

Obviously it’s great for the sponsor to have the security of being in all the big races without having to rely on wildcards so possibly that could result in an extension or renegotiation of the sponsorship contract.

Finally, UCI requires World Tour teams to have a higher minimum salary compared to Pro Continental teams but there is no difference in contract length as far as I know.

What are the worst conditions you’ve ever raced in? And how bad do the conditions have to be for a race to be cancelled? – Robert Merkel

I remember a race in The Netherlands when I was riding in the U23 category. It was a 200km race at the start of the season and we raced in temperatures just above zero and it continuously rained or snowed. After 150km there were only about 40 riders left in the peloton and I had long lost any feeling in my feet and fingers, I couldn’t change gears and I got so cold I couldn’t hold the wheel in front of me anymore. I took another rain jacket from the car but couldn’t get it zipped up because my fingers were so numb.

Two other riders got dropped with me and one of them lived 5km from the place we left the race so we went to his house and jumped straight in the shower still wearing all our cycling clothes. There was no way I would have made it back to the finish and the broom wagon was completely full of other cold riders. Later I heard that a few riders were taken to hospital after having dangerously low body temperatures. I’d never like to race in conditions like that again.

Conditions have to get really bad for races to be cancelled. Two times in my career the race got stopped for half an hour because of hail; in one of those races the hailstones were so big I had small bruises all over my body for a couple of days afterwards. We stopped and were hiding in the team cars and underneath trees until the hail stopped and then we continued the race.

Technically they’ll have to cancel the race if the safety of riders can’t be guaranteed but I suppose you can stretch that a little bit. Sometimes the race gets shortened or climbs avoided if there is too much snow or ice on the roads but I think in my whole career only two races have been completely cancelled.

Koen de Kort in a breakaway on stage 5 of the 2013 Santos Tour Down Under in the scorching heat.

Given the amount of travel involved, and how much time you spend in different countries, how difficult is it to balance the life of a professional cyclist with a private/family life? – Zac Macleod

It’s definitely not easy. When I’m home I’m either tired or have to train a lot so I know I ask a lot of my girlfriend Kaitlin. Sometimes I get home and just want to relax and not have to do anything but that’s not fair on her either. Kaitlin’s very understanding and I think that’s what a cyclist needs. It’s certainly not a sport for soccer WAGs – it’s very complicated for them to go and watch races and they spend the majority of the time alone at home.

Last year I did more than 100 days of racing and I think Kaitlin was there for only 10 of them. If you add travel days and training camps I spend almost as much time of the year with my teammates as I do with Kaitlin. On the other hand it does give us the freedom of being able to spend 3 months of the year in Australia (with my Kaitlin’s family) and the rest of the year in Europe. There aren’t many normal jobs in which it’s possible to do that!

How many flights would you have taken in 2012? Is there any joy in travel as a professional cyclist? Or does it simply feel like a chore? – Greg Rowe

I had to check my records for this question and in 2012 I took 45 flights and travelled a lot by car or (team) bus as well. All flights I took in 2012 were in economy class. I have to honestly say I don’t find a lot of joy in travel but it also doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s just an inevitable thing and I’ll gladly travel if it means I can be home, even if it’s just for a couple of days.

I’m very relaxed while traveling; I get on the plane last, read a book and listen to some music. I’d rather do something else but it’s just part of the lifestyle and I have no problems with that.

Koen de Kort and Roy Curvers arriving at the Tour of Qatar from thousands of kilometres away.

What does a training week look like for you? How many kilometres are you doing? What sort of sessions do you normally do? – Glen Kenny

It all depends on what part of the season I’m in. Pre-season training consists of a lot of long but easy rides, sprints, strength-endurance training and gym work. A normal training week then involves about 30 hours of riding (I’ll average about 30km/h which results in about 900km per week) and 2 gym workouts of about 2 hours each in which I train my legs and core stability.

Once the races start my main focus shifts to taking enough time to recover and working on whatever I feel I lack in races. This usually involves a lot of shorter, high-intensity stuff. I try to keep doing gym as far into the season as possible but it tends to get a bit difficult once the races start to follow each other very quickly.

Every week I speak at least twice with my trainer to chat about how I’m feeling on the bike, the training or races I have done and the training rides coming up. Then, every day after my ride, I send my SRM data, which includes power output and speed, to my trainer. He then analyses and puts the data into different graphs and tables so we can closely track my progress.

We’ve all read about Armstrong riding the key stages of the Tour de France well in advance and Wiggo and his teammates spending time together on Tenerife camps and Tour simulations. What do you and Argos do? What proportion of races would you do a reconnaissance for? – Philip Hall

The focus of my Argos-Shimano team isn’t on GC in the grand tours as much as Sky is. We don’t do reconnaissance for any of the mountain stages in the Tour de France but we definitely do reconnaissance for most of the classics. Last year we stayed in San Remo for an entire week to make sure we knew every single corner and bump in the road in Milan-San Remo and we have done similar things for the other classics.

While on training camps together we do a lot of training for the sprints, one of the main focuses of my team. This involves doing full lead-outs and sprints against each other. We also do race simulations in the training camps but haven’t been with the full Tour de France team together for an extended period of time just before the race. Doing lead-outs and sprints is very hard to simulate in training and for us it’s more important to “practise” in races and train hard in between instead of doing race simulations in training.

To check out the final section of the flat stages in the Tour de France we use Google Maps and Google Street View quite a lot. We then have someone from the team check out the final section, see where the barriers are, where the wind comes from, what side of the road we have to take and other things we need to know. This person then calls the director in the car behind the peloton and tells him all the info we need to know. The director then passes this to us through either the race radios or by telling the sprinter or team captain when he drops back to the car.

In overseas races, such as the TDU and Tour of Qatar, how does each team member transport all their equipment? How much stuff does the rest of the team staff (soigneurs and mechanics) need to bring? – Anonymous

The riders are asked to take just one suitcase of approximately 15kg with personal stuff and race clothing. The team then takes all the rest of the stuff to the airport. The team checks in as a group, that way the luggage weight gets divided between the riders and staff traveling to the race. The organisation running the race communicates with the airline that there is a certain weight the team is allowed to take as a whole and usually it all fits in. Sometimes, though, there is some excess luggage that needs to be paid for.

A lot of stuff gets taken on the plane including bikes and spare bikes, different sets of wheels, massage tables, eskys, race bottles, bars, gels and other race food, bike stands, tools and toolboxes, and so on. Basically anything we might need during the race or that has team sponsorship on it we take on the plane. We usually only rely on the organisation running the race for team cars.

Please send your questions to Ask Koen (if you want your question answered, please do not post questions in the comments). Guidelines: Please do not ask questions like “what do you eat before a race?”, “what do you do for training?” and such. This is your opportunity to ask what goes on behind the scenes in the life of a pro and ask the questions you’ve always wondered about.

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